Most of us have faced one time in our lives (if not more) what we might call a “desert experience”. Such a time is easily remembered as a benchmark of sorts where we were stretched and challenged, a time where we struggled to hope. Some of you may be there now.
The dictionary describes a desert as “a dry, barren area of land, especially one covered with sand, that is characteristically desolate, waterless, and without vegetation”. Some of us might refer to the time as a “wilderness experience”.
I don’t think we arrive there as a destination of choice. But our lives shift, our circumstances change, our moorings let go, and whether spiritually, relationally, occupationally, or physically, we find ourselves there. We feel disoriented.
Being in this place seems to cause us to lose our bearings, at least for a time. Everything about the landscape is unfamiliar to us. We scan the horizon looking for which way to go, but the path is unclear and no landmarks point the way. Because we didn’t plan to be there, we often arrive unprepared and lacking in supplies.
The challenge of the desert is the uncertainty of how far it goes and how long we will be there.
We feel utterly alone, abandoned by those we thought would be there with us and sometimes we sense the Lord has left us as well. The sun scorches us by day and when darkness descends, cold etches itself deep within our bones.
We are weakened by the extreme conditions in which we find ourselves. We experience hunger, but especially thirst until a certain dullness relieves the ache and we become almost numb. It is then when we find the enemy most seductive, formidable, and unrelenting in his assault upon our minds and hearts. His whispers cloud the truth of who we are and whose we are.
Jesus too had a desert experience. It was a time when Satan came to taunt, tempt, and test Him in every conceivable way. The desert environment weakened Him too. He was tempted to call God’s care for Him into question.
In referencing the enemy’s devices, Ken Gire notes in Moments with the Savior that the temptation was “not to make Jesus doubt himself but to depend on himself”. At a time Jesus most needed to depend on his Father, Satan tried to persuade Him to depend on himself, to doubt his Father.
I think we can relate to that temptation as well.
We cry out for an answer, but the heavens appear silent so we are tempted to be unwilling to wait for an answer, a direction, and we launch out on our own. Any direction seems better to us than waiting here in the middle of nowhere with no one.
One day slides into another. We lose track of time. We have difficulty with focus. We are tempted to lie down and sleep, but also know that could be the end of us if we do not stay on the alert.
How we fare in the desert is impacted by a number of factors:
- What was our condition before we arrived there? Had we been fed and nourished daily prior to this?
- What skills and disciplines had we practiced routinely?
- How well did we know the Lord’s voice? Had we spent regular time listening for Him, to Him, so we could distinguish it from other voices?
Each of these, if answered in the most positive way, will make our survival in the desert more likely.
Being equipped for the desert happens in the days, weeks, months, and years before we arrive there.
We must be armed with the truth. Jesus certainly demonstrated that to us. His knowledge of the Word was key when the enemy’s voice and devices were swirling around Him. He also knew his Father’s voice.
What was most crucial for Him in addition to this was whether or not He would be obedient to the Word, whether He would follow the path his Father directed.
As we all know, He would face the test again in Gethsemane and at the cross.
The issue of obedience is crucial for us as well and our response will be strengthened by our knowledge of His Word and His voice.
If we have knowledge of the truth and a clear sense of His voice through regular time with Him before we arrive in the desert, we will be more likely to trust Him, more likely to follow Him.
We will also be strengthened, even as Jesus was, for the next desert experience.